Linda Gorchels blogs

Product management

Product Manager Role Models

Product managers are often likened to CEOs of their product lines. While the analogy isn’t perfect, it provides some rationale for learning from CEOs. What specifically? Leadership, strategy, and influence come to mind.

I was thinking about that as I listened to a radio show about Jack Welch after he passed away on March 1, 2020 at the age of 84. Fortune Magazine had dubbed him “manager of the century” in 1999. He had been credited with turning around an iconic American company in the 1980s. But critics also say “the seeds of GE’s downfall were planted under his tenure.” There’s some truth to both.

Let’s delve into that a bit

Jack Welch took over at GE shortly before the 1980s bull market.… Read the rest

Defy Best Practices

In a world that’s always evolving, magic bullets or best practices don’t guarantee product management success. They’re all about what worked in the past. In a specific context. Some have anchors, and others have wings.

Note the words I used in the title. Defy best practices. I didn’t suggest ignoring best practices, but defying them. Exceptional product managers understand best practices and learn from them. But they don’t fall prey to them. They aren’t afraid to challenge and change those that are obsolete or only habits.

Think about the best practices you’ve seen in your career. Stage-gate product development. Agile. Globalization. Nationalism. Economies of scale. Spin-off start-ups. Design thinking. Re-engineering. Net Promoter Score. Six Sigma. Lean. And dozens more. Did they all work well for you?… Read the rest

Product Management 2020

It’s been 25 years since I published the first edition of The Product Manager’s Handbook (now in its 4th edition).

A lot has changed during that time. Product management has become more mainstream (even though role discrepancies still exist). Technical product management has exploded. Unprecedented information is available from books, seminars and online sources.

But a lot has stayed the same. Product managers still face a major dilemma of matrix management: influencing without authority. There continues to be confusion about the differences between product managers, project managers, and product owners. I keep reading articles and blogs suggesting that product managers must become business and customer advocates, beyond being product activists. (That’s been a common refrain as long as I can remember!)

Beyond that, here are a few trends product managers should pay attention to during the 2020s.… Read the rest

What Type of Product Manager are You?

Photo by Jonathan Andrew from Pexels

I saw a recent Quora question that asked: “What are all the different types of product managers?” ALL of them? I’ve never seen a legitimate list. So, I created one.

Here are a bunch of categories (acknowledging some overlap between them). And I guarantee I didn’t list ALL of them.

By product/industry sector

Online articles about product management might lead you to believe that all positions are now digital. It’s true that technology is increasingly affecting the product landscape from AI to IoT. Yet not every job requires coding. Other knowledge and experience are more relevant for different products in diverse industries.

My client interactions are just the tip of the iceberg, but I have worked with product managers handling:

·       medical devices, equipment, consumables

·       slurry pumps

·       engines

·       commercial equipment

·       HVAC

·       financial services

·       consumer packaged goods

·       automotive parts and accessories

·       pharmaceuticals

·       agricultural products

·       technology

·       games & recreational offerings

And this is just a partial list.… Read the rest

Product managers should think like entrepreneurs

During corporate training sessions, I often ask attendees for their workshop expectations. One product manager wanted to learn how to think like a product manager

To think like a product manager is to think like an entrepreneur.

Neither have complete control

Let’s expand on that a bit. While people may argue that entrepreneurs have more control over everything than do product managers, the reality is just the opposite. It is the rare entrepreneur who is wealthy, with easy access to materials, operations, and labor. Entrepreneurs, like product managers, are hands-on tinkers and testers.

Persuasive investment proposals 

Most entrepreneurs are passionate about their product or service. They have a vision but need resources to actualize the vision. They must craft business plans to solicit money from venture capitalists or banks.… Read the rest

Eco-Smart Innovation

Articles about the importance of innovation to the growth—or even survival—of a company saturate the internet. I even stress its importance in my monthly posts on the topic. However, not all innovation is socially or environmentally compatible. Short-term financial gain may cause long-term environmental pain. Can we do it better? Can we think in terms of Eco-Smart Innovation?

Social Ecosystem

Let’s start with the social ecosystem.

While the average family size in the United States declined over the past seven decades, the average house size increased. A standard single-family house in 1950 was 983 square feet. It now averages 2631 square feet. Additional closets and room sizes enabled us to pack the building with more possessions.

Over the years, advertising bombarded us with messages that we need the new cell phone, the most up-to-date fashion, or the improved household items.… Read the rest

Rules Every Product Manager Should Follow

There are many types of product managers in diverse industries. Yet, there are commonalities that bind them together.  A few guidelines keep popping up in many articles. Here are those rules every product manager should follow, the Ten Commandments.

The Product Managers’ Ten Commandments

As a product manager, thou shalt…

I. Master customer insights

The cornerstone of your product strategy is the ability to attract and keep high-equity customers. Even though product is in your job title, your most important role is to create benefits for (the “right”) users. Who are the most important consumers and why? How are the most important customers different from those who are more short-term or opportunistic?

II. Focus on outcomes

Start with the end in mind.… Read the rest

6 Product Manager Keys to Building Credibility

We’ve all heard that product managers are “mini CEOs”—or words to that effect. They have to influence a lot of stakeholders. To do so, they have to be credible. How can you build credibility? Roll up your sleeves and earn it. Here are a few ideas to help you.

Do Your Homework

Product managers deal with strategies and tactics. Big-picture issues and small details. Broad market demands and individual customer nuances. Internal politics and external realities. It’s hard work, and cutting corners rarely succeeds. Relevant information on customers, product plans, and financial projections are staples of your job. 

Industry knowledge is a must. Learn the broad “rules” in your industry, along with detailed knowledge of competitive positions. Pay attention to trends that could impact current and future product sales.… Read the rest

What are the Strategic Imperatives for Product Success?

The title of this post was a question recently asked on Quora. It included a link to this video, which stated that successful products had to fulfill three criteria: awesome, cheap, and profitable.  Hmm…

I’d like to take my answer in a different direction.

Strategic imperatives are the “big picture” aspirations or goals that guide product management. The extent to which products fulfill the aspirations, or fit the desired strategy, determines their success. Let’s consider a few examples.

Example One: Political Campaigns

Assume you are in charge of a political campaign, i.e., your “product” is a politician. Your strategic imperative is to win the general election. But the first win may need to come from beating opponents in a primary.

Read the rest

Are Generalists More Open-Minded?

Generalist or Specialist?

Are you a generalist, or a specialist, or both?

It’s fair to say that on any topic you fall on a continuum from no knowledge, to some knowledge, to proficiency. Depending on the topic, there may be more or fewer people in each category. (The green curve shows fewer experts on the topic, and the red curve shows more.) In addition, you are likely to be at different points of the curve for different topics.

Regardless of the curve’s shape, who do you expect to be more open to new information—experts or uninformed people? It depends on who is more curious and open to new viewpoints. That said, being a generalist—a person in the middle of the curve—may have advantages.… Read the rest